FCC plans to boost Wi-Fi spectrum by 35%
US regulator proposes biggest allocation of unlicensed frequencies since 2003, but they must be shared with government agencies
Published: 10 January, 2013
US regulator the FCC continues on its quest for more mobile broadband spectrum, including for licence-exempt Wi-Fi services. The agency plans to allocate more unlicensed airwaves for Wi-Fi via its new favorite policy, spectrum sharing with federal groups, to improve performance in congested public places and indoors, it said.
Under its latest plan, Wi-Fi networks will share additional 5GHz spectrum with the Department of Defense and other government agencies, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski announced on Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show. The latest commercial Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, which tops gigabit speeds, runs in 5GHz but in the US, some of that band is occupied by federal users.
The Commission will initiate proceedings in this area at its public meeting next month, particularly studying potential interference issues as well as timing. "We're moving forward with it, and we're going to work out the problems as we go," Genachowski said, stressing that speed was vital. The FCC aims to add 195MHz of spectrum for Wi-Fi, increasing the available capacity by 35% - the largest new allocation for WLan since 2003 - though specific frequencies were not detailed.
Spectrum sharing has become a central theme of the FCC's spectrum plan recently, with proposals for mobile services to coexist with government users in 3.5GHz - a potential national band for small cells - and with broadcasters in the white spaces in TV spectrum.
"We'll keep nurturing today's Wi-Fi as we also develop a next generation of spectrum policies to drive our mobile future for our innovators and our economy," Genachowski said though he admitted it would take a lot of effort, and collaboration with other government agencies, to free up the airwaves. The proposals may meet opposition from the incumbent users, and from lawmakers and operators which want new spectrum to be auctioned, to raise public funds and prevent new competition to carriers which paid large sums for their own licences (though in the age when the big cellcos rely heavily on Wi-Fi offload, the latter argument is less often heard).